Times of migrants in the United States

Times of migrants in the United States

By Miguel Pickard

The migration of Mexicans and Central Americans to the United States in the last year has caused an atmosphere of growing hysteria, racism and xenophobia. In fact, on the immigration issue, a Kafkaian environment has taken over part of the United States.

Times of migrants in the United States: times of KAFKA

The unresolved contradictions

The Kafkaesque nature of the migratory situation derives from contradictions that cannot be resolved. On the one hand, in Mexico and Central America, the neoliberal policies that successive governments have promoted since the mid-1980s have led to the destruction of jobs in the countryside and the city, to the de-industrialization of the productive plant, to the poorest of the poor and to the rich richer. For the few people who get jobs in the formal sector of the economy, wages buy less each year. These are, in summary, the factors of expulsion of the labor force from Mexico and Central America.

On the other hand, in the US the population ages rapidly, leaving jobs vacant by the millions. If they are “good” jobs, young Americans fill them. But there are millions of jobs that Americans do not want to do, the so-called "dead end jobs," because they offer no possibility of advancement in terms of pay, or responsibility, or prestige. Or because they are unpleasant, dirty, dangerous or domestic. But they are jobs that if they were not done, many sectors would stop working (hotels, restaurants, hospitals, schools, agriculture, construction, gardening, livestock trades, meat and fish packing houses, domestic jobs and many others). Entrepreneurs and economists know that migrants are vital to the economy. These, then, are the factors that attract labor to the United States.

There is a demand for arms in the US and a supply in Mexico and Central America. The logic behind the migration is irrefutable. So much so that millions of people have responded in "consistent consequence", obviously carrying enormous associated social costs.

The right wing seizes the immigration discourse

In a more rational and less tolerant world of racist white supremacist groups [1] , the abundant job seekers would travel without further restriction towards the supply. The irrationality arises from voices of the extreme right in the US that seek to preserve an always ill-defined national culture. [2] For these voices, it is not only about immigration documents, whether or not they are in order. The far right, citing concern for the nation's security, has waged a campaign to convince the American public that the country has been invaded by foreigners. Unfortunately for the migrants, the campaign has been successful and the paranoid discourse has permeated. The effects of this xenophobic climate are felt in, for example, the emergence of racist paramilitary groups on the border with Mexico that at least one group that defends migrants –Red de Acción Fronteriza (Border Action Network) - has blamed for the “brutal murder ”of migrants.

Perhaps the most damaging effect of hysteria is the growing trend to criminalize undocumented migration. There are several pending bills in the US Congress that - by way of example - would make it a crime to give any support, including the offer of water or food, to undocumented migrants (it is Bill HR4437, one of the most repressive). [3] Legal advice to undocumented persons would be prohibited. Churches would have to find out immigration status before offering help to people in need. Even just being in the US without valid documents would become a crime. If passed, the law in one fell swoop would turn 11 million undocumented immigrants already living in the United States into criminals. The same draft would promote the construction of 1,100 kilometers of fence at various points along the border. It is also intended to penalize employers who hire "illegals", creating a national system for online review of identity cards, which would instantly confirm the validity of documents provided by the potential employee.

In several states in the US, a hunt has been unleashed against Mexican and Central American day laborers who gather in well-known parking lots or street corners in the hope of being hired. In some states, the undocumented do not have the right to obtain a driver's license, which increases their insecurity and precariousness in huge urban centers, where the only way to get to work is by private car.

Another visceral anti-immigrant reaction is the recent decision in the lower house of the Georgia state congress to charge the undocumented a 5% tax on the amount of remittances they make to their home country. If the sender of the money presents documents that confirm their legal stay in the country, they will be exempted from the tax. The justification given by the authors of the measure is based on an old and trite myth: the "illegals" take advantage of social services (hospitals, schools, etc.) and generate expenses for the treasury beyond what they contribute through the taxes deducted from your pay by the employer. The tax would raise funds directly from those allegedly abusing social services. The bill does not finish being approved, because it needs to be voted in the upper house. There is already opposition to this discriminatory measure, since apart from being based on a fallacy, the effect would be to turn employees of telegraph offices, banks, small shops of all kinds that process remittances into immigration agents.

Elements of rationality in the debate are scarce. Neither the media nor the academics wonder why migration has increased so much - 300% in 10 years. Instead, the newspaper headlines reveal increasing folly. For example:

1. In the US, citizens of that country are arrested and prosecuted for saving Mexicans from probable death in the Arizona desert, where daytime temperatures reach 50 degrees for several months.

2. Authorities of the Tohono O'odham, a traditionally hospitable indigenous people in the US, whose reservation borders Mexico, refuse to allow small oases, with bottles of water, to be established on the migration routes that cross their territory. It hurts the migrants more [that there is water on the road]. They have come a long way and hope [to find] water, and there probably won't be ”. [4]

3. After a scandal mounted in the United States, the Ministry of Foreign Relations refrained from distributing the brochure “Guide for the Mexican migrant”, prepared to save the lives of migrants on their way to the United States and to make the rights of migrants known. [5]

4. In a year, 282 Mexicans and Central Americans die in a single sector of the Arizona desert and the Mexican government does not say anything (see

5. Some blacks in the United States have joined the racist group Minutemen, or support its activities as "migrant hunters" or support anti-immigrant measures since, according to them, illegal immigrants, especially Mexicans, "steal jobs from blacks." [6]

6. The authorities of the county of Pima, Arizona approved in 2005 to disburse US $ 25 thousand to the activist groups that install water tanks in the routes most used by migrants in the desert. It turns out that it is cheaper for the county to shell out that amount, and thereby save lives, than it is to pick up bodies in the desert, store them in the county morgue, and then repatriate them to Mexico or cremate them. [7]

7. And the funny note: A high fashion tennis designer gives her footwear to migrants who are about to cross the border through inhospitable lands, because, according to her, tennis shoes are the best guarantee that they will survive the journey. The tips of the shoelaces hold a small lamp and a compass, the removable template is a miniature map of the border area. The image of the Virgin of Guadalupe appears on the back of the tennis shoe. [8]

The backwaters of humanity and solidarity

Detailing the first note reveals two important issues occurring on the US side of the border. On the one hand, the absurdity of the prevailing environment in the United States where saving lives can be punished with 15 years in jail and fines of half a million dollars. On the other hand, it reveals a piece of information that is lost, or rather not reported, amid scandalous headlines about paramilitaries - "migrant hunters" - on the border determined to stop the "invasion of America" ​​(sic). The data has to do with the hundreds of civil society organizations that, in the same way, are committed to saving lives and promoting the rights of migrants. The right to life, the right to work, the right to migrate in search of a dignified life that they cannot find in their country. The right not to die charred in the desert or "hunted" by racist groups.

Last July 2005, two 23-year-olds, Shanti Sellz and Daniel Strauss, coalition volunteers No more deaths (, found three Mexican migrants in the Arizona desert. The Mexicans had lagged behind the group of people they were walking with, suffering the first debilitating symptoms of heat stroke and dehydration, as well as having huge blisters and sores on the soles of their feet. They had vomited blood. They were thirsty and hungry. They had been stranded on their way and blisters prevented them from seeking help. They faced a situation that often leads to the death of migrants in the desert from hyperthermia, dehydration and heat stroke. Death from hyperthermia is horrifying. The victim literally goes crazy as the increase in body temperature causes a kind of short circuit in the brain.

Shanti and Daniel participated in the routine tours he takes No more deaths in the desert, precisely to help those who can no longer advance by their own strength. Given the enormity and loneliness of the desert, the encounter with the three Mexican migrants was by chance. When evaluating their situation, the two American rescuers, in accordance with the established procedure, communicated by cell phone with a nurse associated with No more deaths which confirmed the need for migrants to receive treatment. With the consent of those affected, the rescuers proceeded to evacuate them to where they could be treated.

Minutes later, the vehicle in which Shanti, Daniel and the three migrants were traveling was pulled over by the Border Patrol. The five occupants were detained and two of the three migrants were summarily deported to Mexico without routine medical aid. The third was detained for two months, ordered to render a videotaped statement, which was later included as evidence in the criminal indictment against Shanti and Daniel for serious crimes (“felonies” in US legal language). They were accused of transporting illegal aliens and of "conspiracy" to commit such an offense. If found guilty, the maximum penalty is 15 years in prison and a fine of half a million dollars. After reviewing the case, Amnesty International has stated that Shanti and Daniel acted exclusively to save human lives, helping to defend the most basic of human rights, the right to life. If found guilty, they would be classified by Amnesty International as “prisoners of conscience”.

Defense attorneys allege that it is not illegal to provide humanitarian aid to anyone and have asked the judge in the case to declare the charges inadmissible. The judge has refused to grant the request, but the trial date has been repeatedly postponed. The latest in the case is that the trial has been postponed indefinitely.

It could be a victory for activist groups in Arizona that mobilized to publicize the case and expose the absurd behavior of the federal prosecutor. However, the postponement could indicate a reluctance on the part of federal authorities to push for a trial that would generate enormous publicity, at a time when the treatment to be given to migrants is being debated in federal congress. If the bill finally approved is more repressive in nature, the prosecutor could restart the trial to make the case of Shanti and Daniel a lesson for other promigrant, Samaritan and human rights groups.

Shanti and Daniel were volunteers from No more deaths, a coalition of various groups that battle daily in a particularly conservative political environment in the state of Arizona. Their fight is for human rights and the dignified and humane treatment of migrants. There are more than twenty organizations that make up No more deaths to carry out different assistance actions (distribute water, food and provide emergency medical aid), as well as outreach, education and lobbying activities. Most of the groups that make up the coalition base their actions on faith and universal human rights.

In fact one of the pillars of No more deaths is Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, which was also a beacon of hope for thousands of Central American political refugees in the 1980s. The pastor in charge of Southside in those years, John Fife, founded the nationwide sanctuary movement in the US. The sanctuary movement welcomed Central Americans fleeing the genocidal terror in Guatemala and El Salvador that was financed by the US government itself.

Fife and 10 leaders of the sanctuary movement were prosecuted in 1985 after the FBI and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (la migra) infiltrated meetings of the movement that were held in different churches. They received sentences of up to five years of probation, but in turn several churches, including the Southside, sued the government. The churches won the trial as the government violated the law by infiltrating the movement with spies. [9]

The members of the sanctuary movement of the 80s who are still active today consider that the reason for their commitment to migrants remains the same, to save lives in danger due to the wrong policies of the United States government. In the 1980s, due to an erroneous international policy; more recently, due to failed economic policies. The environment in the US, however, is less tolerant of migrant arrivals today, and the economic reasons are less clear to the US public than the policies of yesteryear.


The law that comes out of the US federal congress in the coming weeks will reflect the current balance of forces in the legislature and the general sentiment of public opinion on the issue of migrants. Despite the antimigration hysteria fostered by the far right, many analysts foresee an expansion of the current “guest worker” programs, giving more legal space to a certain number of migrants - it is not yet known how many - to meet the demand for thousands of companies. It will be a concession to companies, but the counterpart will be an escalation of repressive measures on the border line to calm the extreme right. In any case, it will be a package of palliative measures that will not address the structural causes of a substantial increase in emigration from Mexico and Central America in the last 10-15 years.

There are alternatives, but they are unthinkable for American politicians these days. On the one hand, within the current neoliberal model, the only coherent alternative is to match demand with supply, that is, free the workforce, as NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) did for other factors ( goods, services, capital). In other words, widening the borders of the United States for the Mexican workforce, which is anathema to large sectors of that country.

Another alternative, outside the neoliberal logic but congruent with the capitalist logic, which allowed the industrialization of all the now “rich” nations, would be to allow countries like Mexico to close their borders to certain factors (goods, services and capital, especially USA) so that, through strategic planning of "autonomous development", certain areas of its economy are protected. For different reasons, this would be equivalent to asking the US to open its borders to what Mexico wants or can export to the US, but without reciprocity, that is, without Mexico having to accept US exports. This is also unthinkable for many US industries, especially business.

Another alternative, following the logic of integration carried out by the European Union, would be to transfer huge sums of money from the US to Mexico, billions of dollars in lost funds each year, so that Mexico can overcome its historical lags in education, infrastructure , technology, etc. In other words, repeating the scheme that the EU used quite successfully when relatively “poor” countries joined the European commonwealth. The justification of the EU continues to be that in a “common market”, the lagging countries are a drag on the progress of the whole, so their economy and human capital must be propped up.

However, if the US were to replicate the measure with Mexico, they would establish an unwanted precedent by the power elites, that is, the US would have to do the same to "integrate" its area of ​​influence (through, for example, the FTAA, Free Trade Area of ​​the Americas) to other countries in the region.

Within the system and in accordance with its own logic, the alternatives are unacceptable for the US elites. The contradictions of the capitalist system are the highlight of our times, but civil society does not have to stick to it.

In any case, and suddenly, Latinos in the US have reacted to the climate of repression in which they are immersed. In a few days, two million people, mostly of Latin American origin, have marched in various cities. In Chicago, 200 thousand on March 10. 20,000 in Phoenix and 10,000 in Milwaukee on March 24. And in Los Angeles, 500,000 people held one of the largest marches in memory in that city. A protester in Phoenix, Demirel Montiel, who marched with his wife and children, expressed himself as follows: “I did not go to work today… I am here for all the illegals. We are all tired, tired of people seeing us as criminals; if you drive, you are a criminal; if you work you are a criminal, if you are Mexican, you are a criminal ”. Oscar Chacón, Salvadoran migrant and director of Links America he commented, "I think we are beginning to see the birth of the new civil rights movement in America." [10]

Wednesday April 5, 2006

* Miguel Pickard

An NGO that registers and tracks paramilitaries on the Mexican border, the Southern Poverty Law Center states that there are more than 750 "hate groups" in the US, including neo-Nazi gangs, racist skinheads, the Ku Klux Klan, and others. Quoted in "Vigilantes and civilian border patrols: background notes on the topic", American Friends Service Committee / Witness, undated, p. 3.
Most descriptions of US cultural identity tend to be exclusive, that is, contrary to the foreign group that has more recently arrived. The language used is, most of the time, racist and degrading. For example, the New York Times commented that "the most conservative Bush supporters ... have warned that in their view the nation's cultural identity could be washed away by a flood of low-income Spanish-speaking workers." (Bumiller, Elisabeth, "Bush is facing a difficult path on immigration", NYT, 03/24/06). A public opinion poll, conducted by the Pew Research Center, found that 40% of the US population agreed with the following sentence "The increasing number of newcomers from other countries threatens American customs and values." , of the group called "socially conservative", 68% agreed. Despite being a minority within the US population, the "socially conservatives" have had a disproportionate interference in determining the policies of their country. Source:
Ross, John, "US draws first blood in border war 2006" Blindman’s Buff, No. 106, January 28-February 3, 2006, published by Weekly News Update on the Americas. Los Angeles Cardinal Archbishop Roger Mahony has written, "As now written, the proposed law is so broad that it would criminalize even minor acts of mercy such as offering a meal or administering first aid." Letter to the New York Times , published March 22, 2006.
Marizco, Michael, “Reservation water bottles slashed”, The Arizona Daily Star, September 22, 2003, page B1.
Galván Ochoa, Enrique, “Pull the ears of the governor of Arizona to the Mexican government”, The Day, February 3, 2005.
Hutchinson, Earl Ofari, "Blacks and the border", AlterNet, January 26, 2006,
Duffy, Gary, “County Oks $ 25K for water stations in desert”, Tucson Citizen, September 7, 2005.
"These shoes were made for migrants to the U.S.", Associated Press, November 17, 2005,
Taken from Gage, Julienne, "Saints at the Border", Tucson Weekly, March 21, 2002,
Brooks, David, “Hundreds of Thousands took the streets of Los Angeles ”, The Day, March 26, 2006,

Video: Latest Immigration News Dream Act 2021 Updates: Bipartisan Immigration Reform Bill. USA Immigration (May 2021).